US Stamps

Attention: It’s time to embrace change and move stamp collecting forward

Jul 8, 2017, 3 AM
Stamp dealer Jim Lee believes it’s time for collectors and dealers alike to embrace the changes and challenges of the digital age. “Remember, it is change that pushes us forward in every aspect of our lives,” writes Lee. (Image courtesy of American Philat

Stamp Dealer Vignettes — By James E. Lee

Change rained down on our hobby in the decades that followed World War II and the baby boomer generation.

Currently, the pessimists in our midst seem to be beating the loudest drum: “The end of our hobby is coming.” “Stamp collecting is a dying hobby.”

This is the one that I find the most pessimistic: “There are no new collectors entering the hobby.”

Let’s examine these myths, ramp up the sound of our drum, and embrace the change.

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This subject is not new to me. I started writing about it almost 20 years ago when I penned a column titled “Where Have All the Stamp Shops Gone.”

While economics and market forces (two dynamics of change) were shuttering stamp stores, a technological change gave birth to something that would be called the Internet. It would grow up to be the single most important driver in our hobby.

Today, stamp shows are on the brink of facing the same two dynamics stamp shops faced two decades ago.

Unless a show offers something new of interest that will attract a significant number of collectors, they will continue to fade away.

Without a unique reason to attend people, can just stay home and shop online for stamps and postal history.

Dealers who have built their business model around a website and the Internet are flourishing today.

My own business exists today because of my website, not because of the seven shows (down from 34 in 1991) that I set up for every year.

Sales continue to grow even though the amount of time spent working is starting to decline.

Of my revenue, 85 percent comes from my website and the balance from shows. This is the exact reverse of 21 years ago.

The biggest challenge is keeping the social aspect of the business flourishing. This is accomplished by using the phone to keep in constant touch with clients.

Occasional “house calls” also serve as a medium for cementing and growing relationships.

EBay has become the largest stamp retailer in the world. It has drawn people to stamp collecting by the tens of thousands and provides our hobby with its greatest opportunity.

How do dealers, societies, and organized philately (the American Philatelic Society, for example) attract these people to our side of the street? How do we get these everyday casual Internet buyers to experience the great depths of our hobby?

There is no shortage of new collectors.

My own data shows that more than 200 new clients found a path to my mailing list via the Internet during the past three calendar years. Around 90 percent of them are under the age of 50.

Our hobby is not dying; it is changing. We must explore ways to adopt and exploit this change.

In the early 1900s, the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company stopped building horse-drawn wagons and started to build cars. Had they continued to build only wagons they would have disappeared early on.

If your world view of stamp collecting focuses on the pessimistic, you will be swept aside by the tidal wave of change occurring today.

If you explore change and apply positive energy to stay at the forefront of the hobby, your experience will be both fuller and richer no matter where you sit at the table.

The challenge is quite simple: Both established collectors and dealers need to come together and develop a path to expose all new collectors to the broad base of the hobby.

If you’re a collector, you can get involved through the APS. If you are a dealer, you can get involved through the American Stamps Dealers Association.

Remember, it is change that pushes us forward in every aspect of our lives.


This originally was published as an As I See It column in issue No. 82 of Lee’s newsletter, James E. Lee’s Philately.